Ancient India’s Contribution

Ancient India’s Contribution

Article from Ayurveda Holistic Community

Swami Sadashiva Tirtha-

When we look at scientists who are credited with the most important ideas of our time we find mainly Greeks, Europeans, Americans listed. Yet western history seems to be arbitrarily begin during the Greek era. In fact, when we extend the boundaries of history to view the longer span of history we find some amazing developments predating “modern” history originating in India more than 5,000 years ago.

The ancient thinkers of India were not only scientists and mathematicians, but also deeply religious, esteemed saints of their time. While it may surprise some to think of religious sages as mundane scientists, the Indian view is that religion (universal) and science are but two sides of the same coin – in short semantics. Whether one calls a natural phenomena wind or the wind god – Vayu – one is speaking of the same thing.

Yet it seems that having a spiritual foundation not only brought out important discoveries still in use today, but these discoveries also were helpful without causing harm or destruction.

In fact this article will cite the origins of some amazing and here-to-for mis-credited discoveries as coming from India. Some examples include so-called Arabic numerals, the concept of the zero, so-called Pythagorean theory, surgery and more.

It may seem astonishing, but the ancient texts are there to show the thinking and writing of these great Indian thinkers. Why is India not credited? It seems that in the west we have a condescending, Euro- or Greco-centric view that civilizations older than Greece were uncivilized barbarians. This notion was further melded into our collective psyche through Hollywood’s portrayal of ancient cultures.

One only has to look at old Tarzan movies to see ancient tribes shown as barbaric, superstitious idol worshipping people. Tarzan himself was shown to be a non-speaking animal-like person.

In fact, in the original books, Tarzan was a well-educated and highly eloquent speaker. Chauvinistic misrepresentation exists even today. Nearly every book written on the history of mathematics is equally biased.

The one bright spot is the Crest of the Peacock. Even this year, during the recent Hindu festival, the Kumbha Mela – the largest human gathering in history (70 million people) the modern-day press mainly reported on the most negative aspects of the event.

It was not credited as the largest gathering, nor was it pointed out that for 1 week, the area was the worlds largest city (larger population than London, Tehran, Rio, Paris, Chicago, Beijing, Hyderabad and Johannesburg put together).

Virtually no one spoke of the sacredness of the event, the hardships people endured for this holy event. Further, the whole event went off without a hitch – adequate food, water, electricity – a marvel by any standards.

There were more than 13,000 tons of flour, 7,800 tons of rice, 20,000 public toilets, 12 hospitals, 35 electric power centers, 20,000 police, 1,090 fire hydrants and much more.

Rarely was an ardent devotee interviewed or photographed. Instead reporters and cameramen only focused on the minority elements – naked sadhus smoking ganga (marijuana) and implying prayers were to some lesser god.

But it sells newspapers and TV news. In truth, the Indian media showed an equal amount of bias and lack of cultural pride. In short the media still portrays India in a deeply condescending manner.

But I digress. The point is that westerners have been brought up for decades incorrectly viewing ancient civilizations as intellectually and culturally inferior to modern man.

So it is no surprise to be surprised in learning some of the greatest discoveries not only came from India, but from ancient India. It shakes the very foundations of prejudicial beliefs. Here are but a few examples of India’s enlightened thinkers.

According to India’s ancient texts, around 3000 BCE sage Kapil founded both cosmology and psychology. He shed light on the Soul, the subtle elements of matter and creation. His main idea was that essential nature (prakrti) comes from the eternal (purusha) to develop all of creation.

No deeper a view of the cosmos has ever been developed. Further, his philosophy of Sankhya philosophy also covered the secret levels of the psyche, including mind, intellect and ego, and how they relate to the Soul or Atma.

Around 800 BCE Sage Bharadwaj, was both the father of modern medicine, teaching Ayurveda, but also the developer of aviation technology. He wrote the Yantra Sarvasva, which covers astonishing discoveries in aviation and space sciences, and flying machines – well before Leonardo DaVinchi’s time. Some of his flying machines were reported to fly around the earth, from the earth to other planets, and between universes.

His designs and descriptions have left a huge impression on modern-day aviation engineers. He also discussed how to make these flying machines invisible by using sun and wind force. There are much more fascinating insights discovered by sage Bharadwaj.

Around this era and through 400 BCE many great developments occurred. In the field of medicine (Ayurveda), sage Divodasa Dhanwantari developed the school of surgery; rishi Kashyap developed the specialized fields of pediatrics and gynecology.

Lord Atreya, author of the one of the main Ayurvedic texts, the Charak Samhita, classified the principles of anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, embryology, blood circulation and more. He discussed how to heal thousands of diseases, many of which modern science still has no answer.

Along with herbs, diet and lifestyle, Atreya showed a correlation between mind, body, spirit and ethics. He outlined a charter of ethics centuries before the Hippocratic oath.

While Lord Atreya is recognized for his contribution to medicine, sage Sushrut is known as the “Father of surgery”. Even modern science recognizes India as the first country to develop and use rhinoplasty (developed by Sushrut).

He also practiced amputation, cesarean and cranial surgeries, and developed 125 surgical instruments including scalpels, lancets, and needles. Sage Kanad (circa 600 BCE) is recognized as the founder of atomic theory, and classified all the objects of creation into nine elements (earth, water, light or fire, wind, ether, time, space, mind and soul).

He stated that every object in creation is made of atoms that in turn connect with each other to form molecules nearly 2,500 years before John Dalton. Further, Kanad described the dimension and motion of atoms, and the chemical reaction with one another. The eminent historian, T.N. Colebrook said, “Compared to scientists of Europe, Kanad and other Indian scientists were the global masters in this field.”

In the field of chemistry alchemical metals were developed for medicinal uses by sage Nagarjuna. He wrote many famous books including Ras Ratnakar, which is still used in India’s Ayurvedic colleges today.

By carefully burning metals like iron, tin, copper, etc. into ash, removing the toxic elements, these metals produce quick and profound healing in the most difficult diseases. Sage Aryabhatt (b. 476 CE) wrote texts on astronomy and mathematics.

He formulated the process of calculating the motion of planets and the time of eclipses. Aryabhatt was the first to proclaim the earth was round, rotating on an axis, orbiting the sun and suspended in space. This was around 1,000 years before Copernicus.

He was a geometry genius credited with calculating pi to four decimal places, developing the trigonomic sine table and the area of a triangle. Perhaps his most important contribution was the concept of the zero. Details are found in Shulva sutra.

Other sages of mathematics include Baudhayana, Katyayana, and Apastamba. Varahamihr (499 – 587 CE) was another eminent astronomer. In his book, Panschsiddhant, he noted that the moon and planets shine due to the sun. Many of his other contributions captured in his books Bruhad Samhita and Bruhad Jatak, were in the fields of geography, constellation science, botany and animal science.

For example he presented cures for various diseases of plants and trees. Knowledge of botany (Vrksh-Ayurveda) dates back more than 5,000 years, discussed in India’s Rig Veda. Sage Parashara (100 BCE) is called the “father of botany” because he classified flowering plants into various families, nearly 2,000 years before Lannaeus (the modern father of taxonomy). Parashara described plant cells – the outer and inner walls, sap color-matter and something not visible to the eye – anvasva.

Nearly 2,000 years -later Robert Hooke, using a microscope described the outer and inner wall and sap color-matter. In the field of mathematics, Bhaskaracharya II (1114 – 1183 CE) contributed to the fields of algebra, arithmetic and geometry. Two of his most well known books are Lilavati and Bijaganita, which are translated in several languages of the world. In his book, Siddhant Shiromani, he expounds on planetary positions, eclipses, cosmography, and mathematical techniques.

Another of his books, Surya Siddhant discusses the force of gravity, 500 years before Sir Isaac Newton. Sage Sridharacharya developed the quadratic equation around 991 CE. Ancient India invented the decimal scale using base 10. They number-names to denote numbers. In the 9th century CE, an Arab mathematician, Al-Khwarizmi, learned Sanskrit and wrote a book explaining the Hindu system of numeration.

In the 12th century CE the book was translated into Latin. The British used this numerical system and credited the Arabs – mislabeling it ‘Arabic numerals’. “We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.” – Albert Einstein. India was the world-leader in Metallurgy for more than 5,000 years. Gold jewelry is available from 3,000 BCE.

Brass and bronze pieces are dated back to 1,300 BCE. Extraction of zinc from ore by distillation was used in India as early as 400 BCE while European William Campion patented the process some 2,000 years later. Copper statues can be dated back to 500 CE. There is an iron pillar in Delhi dating back to 400 CE that shows no sign of rust or decay. There are two unique aspects to India’s ancient scientists.

First their discoveries are in use today as some of the most important aspects of their field; and are validated by modern technological machines. Second, their discoveries brought peace and prosperity rather than the harm and destruction of many of our modern discoveries. Due to their intense spiritual life, they developed such power of discrimination (vivek). Spirituality gives helpful direction and science brings speed.

With a core of spirituality, modern scientists’ discoveries can quickly bring only helpful ideas to help humanity. While Einstein is credited with the idea that one can travel faster than the speed of light, it was written about centuries before in the ancient Vedic literature. Perhaps it was Einstein’s association with the famed Indian physicist, Bose that led to his introduction to the views about the speed of light.

Through deep meditation and reading the ancient Vedic texts, who knows what our modern-day scientists will discover? There are two points here, the first is that India should be proud of its amazing achievements and be properly credited, and second, India leaves a blueprint, compass and map for how to develop safe and helpful discoveries for the future betterment of mankind.

Ayurveda Encyclopedia
Swami Sadashiva Tirtha. AHC Press 1988

Vedic Mathematics
Jagadguru Shankaracharya Swami Sri Bharati Krsna Tirthaji Maharaj. Motilal Banarsidass 1988

The Crest of the Peacock
George G. Joseph. I.B. Taurist Co, London 1991

Indian Astronomy & Mathematics
O.P. Jaggi. Atma Ram & Sons, Delhi 1986

Surya Siddhanta
Reb. E Burgess translator. Swaran Press. Delhi 1977

Hinduism Today magazine May/June 2001
Samskrita Bharati (


Recommended book:

Ayurveda Encyclopedia Natural Secrets For Healing, Prevention & Longevity  by Swami Sada Shiva Tirtha, D.Sc.


An exhaustive and in-depth presentation of all aspects of Ayurveda.
* Much information available for the first time in a book published outside of India
* 85 herb materia medica with photos
* 100 page chapter on Ayurvedic Yoga postures with photos of asanas
* Modern scientific research on Ayurvedic herbs
* Parallels and differences between Ayurveda and modern medicine
-anatomical and physiological discussions and diagrams/modern application of ancient practices
* Pancha karma therapies: complete discussion (traditional/Kerala styles)
* Pulse analysis determining dosha & vikriti